Thanksgiving Survival Guide: Picky Eater Edition


Picky eaters. We’ve all had one, known one or been one, right?? There are varying levels of pickiness from slight to extreme and while for some it’s a phase that only lasts a few months or years, for others it can be (for a myriad of reasons) something that lasts well into adulthood.  I think I can list on one hand the food items my little brother would eat until he was 18. Whatever the reason, having a picky eater in the family can make eating out difficult. Throw in the um, unique textures, smells, and looks of some of the traditional Turkey Day fare and it’s enough to send even us well-rounded eaters into panic mode.

In hopes of making your Thanksgiving a pleasant one, I have compiled a few of my go-to tips and tricks for making the holidays a little easier for you and your picky eater at mealtime:

Don’t change the entire menu for 1 picky kid. If you’re hosting, don’t plan the entire meal around the kid who will only eat nuggets from that one place, gummy snacks and blueberries. Part of the fun of the holidays is that we eat random casseroles and dishes we only make a few times a year. It’s 1 meal, you have 364 other dinners where you can serve nuggets, gummy snacks and blueberries.

Don’t wait until gameday to prepare.  One of the best pieces of parenting advice I’ve ever received was that you can’t teach your kids at the same time you’re giving the test and expect them to pass with flying colors. So on the way to Granny’s (and in the days leading up to it) let them know what to expect. Give them a pep talk. “Hey guys! We are going to have a big yummy meal at Nana’s! Who remembers our 3 mealtime rules?”  I keep it at 3 short rules because mine are little, you do what works for you and pick what’s most important to you. Does it guarantee my kids will be saints the entire time? Nope, but it gets us off to a good start and I find myself raising my voice less. If you really wanna prep- you can even make a few practice dishes to serve with dinner here and there in the days leading up to Turkey Day. 

Feed them ahead. You know what’s worse than a kid who is gagging at and crying about every item he’s served? A starving kid who is gagging at and crying about every item he’s served. It’s a guaranteed recipe for a stage 5 meltdown. Bring a snack to give them ahead of time and get something in that belly. They may refuse everything at the dinner but at least they won’t be “hangry“. 

Include something you know they’ll eat. If you’re hosting, throw in a dish or two you know they’ll eat to the spread. Who knows- maybe dino shaped mac & cheese will be the new hit of the holidays. If you aren’t hosting, offer to bring an appetizer or fruit dish that you know your kiddo would enjoy. If there’s one item on their plate you know they will eat, they are more likely to try one of the other not-so-cherished items.

Sit them by kids (or adults) who are good eaters. If there’s a cousin, aunt, or uncle who your picky eater looks up to- sit them together for some positive peer pressure! I’m pretty sure my oldest magically decided she liked tomatoes one day after seeing how much one of her best friends liked them. Likewise, if you have several difficult eaters- don’t sit them together. Misery loves company and you may end up with more bad habits than you came in with. 

Have them Help! A good chef always tastes their own dish, and with kids it’s no different. One of the reasons (besides ranch dressing) that my 3 kids eat salads is because they know on salad night they get to help. They love to help spin the lettuce after it’s washed and add in toppings as I cut them up. It’s a great time to let them try bites of what’s going in the dish, and to spend some quality time with them. They are always so proud of their dish and will at least try it. Let them put the onion strings on the green bean casserole and see if it gets eaten this year!

Keep it simple (and small!). Huge scoops of foreign looking foods can be overwhelming for little eyes and tummies. Try putting small portions of just a few items on the plate at a time. If a kid sees 2 or 3 bites of something it looks more manageable and :gasp: they might even try a bite! 

Pick your battles. For many the holidays are stressful enough so no need to start World War 3 if little Kevin just isn’t having it with the weird green bean concoction your aunt Susan brought.  Kids at holidays are usually out of routines, overstimulated by people, food, and activities and tired from travel. Who am I kidding, that applies to adults too! The difference is that our kids aren’t yet equipped with all of the tools to handle those things in a socially appropriate way. So let’s give them (and ourselves) lots of grace. You’d be surprised at how much fun holidays can be when you allow yourself to let the little things go.

What are some tips that have helped you with your picky eater? 

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Adrienne moved to Waco just before middle school, attended Baylor, married a Sooner and adventured in OKC and Oregon before returning “home” to Waco in 2012. She and her husband Daniel have 3 spirited kiddos Brooklyn (almost 6), Griffin (3), and Dylan (2). She’s worked in various roles in the non-profit sector prior to staying home with the kids once their third was born. Most days you can find her wrangling her 3 kids and running a clothing business from her home. She finds joy in 90’s music, oreos, fall weather and good food. She has a stack of half-read books on her nightstand that she hopes to one day finish. Find her on instagram @adriennehare and say Hi!